The Homo-sapien is a diverse species. Whilst coming in an array of shapes, sizes and colors, ‘The Brit’ is perhaps the oddest strain. Self-commiseratively dwelling in wet conditions, he is easily identified by displaying irrational tendencies. Such include: catching someone’s attention by saying ‘sorry’; pretending to conduct a thorough search of pockets despite knowing he left his loyalty card at home; aggressively defending his space at baggage reclaim, and showing signs of mortification when hosting and being unable to supply a requested condiment. As Rob Temple’s @soverybritish twitter feed demonstrates, it’s these bizarre rituals, rigmaroles and outright cases of OCD that mean what it means to be ‘British’.
Really, it’s astonishing natural selection didn’t weed us out years ago. We were more than happy to fight for our empire, yet now we cannot summon the courage to defend ourselves to the cashier when required to pay 50p more, despite knowing that our selection adheres to the Meal Deal. Notwithstanding this, of late we have decided to take pride in our rather absurd nation, with a revival of that indefinably vague notion of ‘Britishness’.
Nowadays one cannot walk outside without being assaulted by a ‘Keep Calm’ sign, let alone relieve your retina’s of the Union Jack emblazoned across every poster, advert and upholstery surface. The bulldog is no longer resigned to the boot in an insurance advert, he now grins dourly from cards, t-shirts and cushion covers across the country. This patriotic surge, fuelled by the past few years which has seen the Baby George Boom, the legacy of Danny Boyle’s mastering of the Olympics and Adele’s soundtrack to the latest 007 blockbuster, all of which has triggered a change in everyday experience for ‘The Brit’.
Fashion resonates this shift -especially through those trends that hark back to bygone days. For example, when sporting paisley you don’t just wear a pattern, you wear the spices of foreign lands, the legacy of British imperial India. This season’s return to 1960’s means when you wear your new shift dress you are also wearing Campbell’s Soup, The Kinks and choco-ice’s from Woolworth’s lunch counter. Looking ahead, the romanticism of the British countryside has reverberated onto a pastoral catwalk, with furs, tweed and earthy colors forecast for this autumn proving Downton is still cool – (think less Devil wears Prada and more Bumpkin dons Barbour). The fabric of our nation, literally and metaphorically, has shifted from embarrassment of being British, to embracement.
Not everything has remained constant; we no longer have a tangible empire and Lady Chatterley’s Lover now has fifty-shades. But certain things endure.I defy any stoic Briton for whom the undulations of ‘Jerusalem’ won’t bring that warm fuzzy feeling, or who doesn’t silently whoop when Hugh Grant delivers his PM speech in Love Actually. Yes, the concept of ‘the nation’ is argued to be an outmoded concept, an ‘imagined community’ that binds together people who actually have nothing in common. Yes, I think we should invest more in cosmopolitan values and internationalism. However, I still have an affection for my country. British exceptionalism is no fallacy; we have the electric motor, suet pudding and Delia Smith to show for that. So long live Britannia; in the words of the other Churchill, “Be England what she will. With all her faults, she is my country still”.